Economic Class and Voting Behavior
Andrew Gelman posts the familiar Red-Blue map of the 2004 election with a twist: What if only poor people’s votes counted? Only the middle class? Only the rich? The results are posted at right.
Visually, at least, it’s a Republican blowout if the poor are excluded and a Democratic landslide if only the poor vote.
Reading inside the data, though, Gelman and his colleagues found something more striking:
For poor voters, there is no systematic difference between rich and poor states. But for middle-income and especially for rich voters, there is a very strong pattern of rich states supporting the Democrats and poor states supporting the Republicans.
Thus, the familiar red-blue divide of cosmopolitan coastal Democrats and heartland-state Republicans shows up among the rich but not the poor.
Henry Farrell weighs in:
Gelman et al. don’t have any hard and fast explanation for this (they note that race explains about half of this disparity, but only half). However, their results do suggest that some of the conventional wisdom of American journalists on class, voting and geographic location stands in sore need of revisiting.
I’d note that half the disparity is a hell of a lot. Further, is it all that surprising that there’s more regional variation in the voting behavior among well-off voters than poor ones? Rich and middle class people on the coasts and in major urban centers live much different lives than their counterparts in the rural and suburban areas. Poverty, meanwhile, tends to look the same everywhere.
UPDATE: A commenter at Matt Yglesias‘ place makes a good point:
In high-cost-of-living states like New York, New Jersey and California, there are a lot of people who qualify as “rich” by national standards, but not by local standards. By local standards, they’re middle class, so we should expect them to vote like other middle class people.
Quite so. That’s the problem with using income as a proxy for social class across a diverse population.